Talking Turkey

I crossed into Turkey the other day without incident, except for a slimy border guard on the Georgian side who wanted me to give him my iPod. I said no way, that cost $150! I gave him what was left of a pack of Marlboro cigarettes I had bought in Ashgabat to bribe the Turkmenistan police. He did not seem too happy but he gave me my passport and let me through.

Here is where I am now and my route for the next couple months.

In Turkey the cold wet weather and mountains continued. My first stop was the town of Kars, and in particular the ancient ruins of the city of Ani.

Ani is a ruined and uninhabited medieval city situated beside the border with Armenia. It was once the capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom that covered much of present day Armenia and eastern Turkey.  Called the “City of 1001 Churches”, it stood on various trade routes and its many religious buildings, palaces, and fortifications were amongst the most technically and artistically advanced structures in the world. At the height of its glory, Ani had a population of 100,000 – 200,000 people and was the rival of Constantinople, Baghdad and Cairo. Renowned for its splendor and magnificence, Ani was at its peak around AD. 1000 and was ruled by Byzantine and Seljuk Turks over the years until destroyed by the Mongols In 1220. The decline of the Silk Road and further destruction by Timur in the 1380s was the death knell for Ani. It was abandoned and never again occupied.

Today it is an erie site. Mostly in ruins but with some 1000 year old churches still standing. With some imagination you can visualize Ani’s former greatness.

One of the churches still standing. This church is over 1000 years old.

Ani was protected by steep valleys on three sides. Here is one valley. The river separates Turkey from Armenia.

The remains of a church.

A few from inside one of the churches.

Why am I Doing This?

When I left Kars it was raining again and I had a high pass to climb up (2500 m). For three hours I slogged uphill getting soaking wet. I had on every stitch of clothing I had with me–4 layers on top, two pair of pants, a hat and two hoods, gloves, two pair of socks plus plastic bags on my feet. It was 6 deg C out and the wind was fierce. I was not having fun and not for the first time I thought, ‘Ugh, what a dumb idea this cycling thing is.’

I was also wondering where I would spend the night. There were no hotels around so I was looking at the dreaded prospect of camping in the rain while already soaked and freezing.

Just then a truck pulled up along side and the driver asked if I wanted a ride. (He spoke Russian and even my limited Russian is better than my Turkish.) I thought about it for a nanosecond then accepted. He saved my life. We rode together for about four hours which saved me three days and lot of grief. Here is Anil the truck driver and the foggy road I was on.

When Anil deposited me by the side of the road it had stopped raining and I had dried out my clothes and warmed up. I made my way to the town of Van, on Lake Van. It rained there too so I did not take many photos. But here are a few local residents.

By the way, these were some of the few women I saw. Turkey seems to be overwhelmingly male, like the dwarfs. I guess all the women are kept at home. As you may know, women occupy a low place in Muslim society.

I rode along Lake Van for a few days. The weather was a little better but it still rained every day.

Some views around Lake Van.

The road took me over some big mountains. Here is a view of a small mountain village.

Mountain clouds.

Man’s Best Friend?

Dogs were again a problem. One time three attacked me simultaneously. My strategy now is to dismount when they approach and prepare my pepper spray and grab a handful of rocks. This usually keeps them at bay until I can ride off. But one time two big dogs came after me. Even with a face full of pepper spray and and hit by rocks they kept coming. So I ran after them yelling and throwing more rocks. I did not realize I was in front of a military post however and seconds later a soldier came towards me dressed in full military fatigues and carrying a machine gun.

I tried to explain about the dogs but he did not speak English. Then another soldier came out, kicked the dog and invited me in for tea. A bit shaken, I accepted. One of the soldiers spoke good English so we had a little conversation for half an hour. Here I am with the Turkish soldiers in the mess hall. I love the guy in the middle–he looks like he is posing for GQ magazine.

By the way, the above photo is the only one I was allowed to take. I have passed more military posts in Turkey than any other country. These are not necessarily checkpoints, although they did search all my panniers once. They consist of one or more fortified huts by the side of the road, staffed by a couple of soldiers and with an armored vehicle nearby. I pass two or three of these every day. At first I asked if I could take a photo but was refused so many times I gave up. I considered taking one on the sly but decided against it. I did not want to risk getting caught and accused of being a spy. That would make great blog material however.

Instead, here is a photo of a typical armored vehicle I got from the internet.

Next post, more about the machine gun-toting (and shooting) Turkish soldiers and a visit to the Kurdish stronghold city of Diyarbakir.

16 thoughts on “Talking Turkey

  1. Debbie Black October 29, 2008 / 8:41 pm

    Hi Kevin!

    You have had some amazing luck on this trip — how many people have been invited in for tea by a machine gun toting Turkish soldier?

    Your journey has been a good geography lesson for me — I didn’t realize that Turkey was attached to the former Soviet Union! Or maybe I just never gave it much thought . . .

    To date, what is your most impactful experience? Your most frightening experience? Are you at all nervous about riding through the middle east?

    Here’s my philosophical question for you — I posed this in your last post, but you may not have seen it. Have you sent in your absentee ballot? If not, do you intend to vote in next week’s election? Is there a U.S. Embassy you can pop into on your route?

    I look forward to hearing about your further adventures in Turkey!


  2. Ben Kilpela October 30, 2008 / 3:16 pm

    There’s part of your answer to the question of those former conquerors and warriors who are claimed as great heroes, Kev. There is a big downside to every conquest. Ani is destroyed and lost forever. When we focus on what the conqueror’s deeds have led to over time it can be easy to acclaim his long past deeds. But this is selective memory, as you have been pointing out. To see the meaning of a conquest in full, we must see what it has destroyed or kept from coming into being. Tamburlaine, or Timur, was a destroyer. Pizarro was a destroyer. Some of their nasty deeds led to good by luck or the will of other good people, such as the Catholic missionaries and priests who followed Pizarro and his cruel, greedy band into Peru. But what would have come about if Pizarro or Tamburlaine had not destroyed it or kept it from coming into being will never be known. (There is a chance, of course, that what could have come into being could have been something worse. So one shouldn’t get to ALL fired up about condemning a conquest or its perpetrators.)

    Kippis, Ben

  3. Ben Kilpela October 30, 2008 / 3:17 pm

    Great photos, too. Hard to believe you’re where you are.

    Ben again

  4. Kevin Koski October 30, 2008 / 4:57 pm

    Deb–I did cast a ballot. I voted for ‘none of the above’. You know I am just a little cynical about politicians.

    I will have to think about the other questions. I am not so concerned about Syria, Lebanon or Jordan. Africa scares me more.

    Ben–as Shakespeare said: ‘Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ Hmmm…not sure I really believe that.

  5. Ben Kilpela October 31, 2008 / 2:59 pm

    By the way, Kev, I would like a description and photograph of how you get these blog posts on line. What tech do you have with you? What is your usual process? How long does it take? What have been the challenges? Is it hard doing this?

    The line from Shakes is one of his most famous, of course. It is from Hamlet, a fellow who was in great conflict about what do about a dastardly uncle at the time he spoke the line. As with many a line from Shakes — not to mention from Jesus and a few others — the line has been put to an infinite number of uses and given an infinite number of meanings, most of which Shakes could never have imagined. It has a rather specific meaning in the context of the play.

    By the by, it’s interesting that the thinkers and writers of Shakes’s day had a lot to say about Pizarro and the Spanish conquerors. The English talking heads of the day were always using those chums as examples of the evils of Popery and of Spanish culture, which bred those terrible Catholics who, in 1588, in the form of the Spanish Armada, had tried to conquer England and force it back into a Catholic state. Hamlet was written in 1605, according to the most educated guesses, 17 years after the Aramda was destroyed off the coast of Holland.

    Kippis, Ben

  6. Kevin Koski November 1, 2008 / 6:20 pm

    Ben—The blog process is rather easy. I use WordPress platform which is linked to my web site. I do not have a laptop with me so I rely on internet cafes. Fortunately they are ubiquitous in the world these days so I can usually log on every couple days. As I take photos I upload the best ones and add a little text. I refine the post over the week and when I have a decent post (not too long) I upload it. It seems to work OK although some connections are very slow so uploading is a pain.

    Also, after riding all day sometimes I really don’t feel like writing so the commentary is not that witty or exciting. Add to that the internet cafes are frequently noisy and full of smoke so I don’t like to stay there any longer than I have to. If I had my own laptop I could spend more time on the writing.

    That line from Hamlet actually refers to his feeling about Denmark. He disliked it while Rosencranz liked the place. I guess I was trying to express the concept we shouldn’t be so quick to judge was is right and wrong. Bad deeds may ultimately lead to good things, while good deeds often have negative consequences (hence the saying, ‘no good deed goes unpunished’.) I mean, what if Eve resisted temptation and did not eat the apple? What would have been the result? How would that have changed things?

  7. Kevin Koski November 1, 2008 / 6:55 pm

    Deb, I have thought a bit about the ‘impactful’ experiences. I am not sure what you mean by that but the most memorable good (including challenging) experiences so far are (in chronological order):

    – The chaco of Paraguay
    – The altiplano of Bolivia
    – The most dangerous road outside of La Paz
    – The floating island people of Lake Titicaca
    – Machu Pichuu
    – The highlands of Peru (the day I road into Abancay is still the most traumatic of the trip)
    – Peru’s northern coast. Swaying in a hammock one night on the beach gazing at the stars and sipping rum and coke for about four hours.
    – Most of Colombia, but especially Medellin and Cartagena
    – The San Blas islands of Panama
    – Spending time with the Arias family in San Jose, Costa Rica
    – Pretty much all of Japan, but especially time with my sister and family in Tokyo.
    – Western China, especially camping in Qinghai, Gansu and Xinjiang provinces.
    – Drinking an ice cold beer in Turpan in 120 deg heat.
    – Most of Kyrgyzstan–a beautiful country
    – Samarkand and Bukhara (getting a phenomenal massage there)
    – Sipping Georgian wine with other travellers in Tbilisi.
    – The mountains of Georgia and Turkey (except for the dogs).

  8. Eric Lassila November 2, 2008 / 8:45 am

    Amazing stories that you have about your journey Kevin – I just started reading them as Don Sr. gave me your website address recently. You have muchos cajones going into many of the countries that you’ve been in…….. Good stuff…..

    Eric Lassila

  9. JoJo November 2, 2008 / 6:36 pm

    Wow, Turkish guys are pretty hot.

  10. Gerard November 2, 2008 / 9:33 pm


    Gerard from Tbilisi’s “Dodo’s Homestay” here! Back to my Excel charts, I follow your journey (the whole iniciaitve, actually) with huge interest. It was nice meeting you in wellcoming Tbilisi. I’ll keep you updated if I think of any new ‘guerrilla’ strategy against huge dogs!

    I’ll toast to your health with next Georgian wine I find…I don’t know where.

    Greetings from Barcelona.

  11. DAD November 2, 2008 / 11:29 pm

    KEV —-vote for OBAMA—-DAD

  12. DAD November 2, 2008 / 11:34 pm

    There is big trouble in the Sudan and Ethiopia

  13. Ben Kilpela November 3, 2008 / 4:39 pm

    Hi, Kev. Quick to judge??!! It’s now 700 years after Tamburlaine and 500 years after Pizarro. It’s about time we either condemned or approved their ACTIONS (emphasis on actions, not the person himself, for the judgment of a single person or actor is a moral and social issue that is tougher and also much less pertinent or helpful for us). A general principle might be that no immediately or superficially or ostensibly bad or immoral action should be undertaken that cannot be reasonably demonstrated (to a preponderance of the evidence) to have a good result for many or most people. Thus, we should undertake no “bad” action in the vague hope that good will result or that we merely guess good will result from. Just running that up the flagpole (or as I aptly mistyped a moment ago, the “flogpole”) for your consideration.

    Kippis, Ben

  14. Jim November 4, 2008 / 2:59 pm

    Very interesting, Kev, thanks. And the pictures are great! I would worry about cycling in Egypt though… I remember the experiences of a couple who cycled Egypt in the book “Miles from Nowhere”, a book recommended by your mother incidently.

    Dogs, ugh, always a problem…try squirting them in the face with water, that has worked for me.

  15. Kevin Koski November 4, 2008 / 6:03 pm

    Ben– sounds good. Too bad people in power generally have no principles, except to stay in power and benefit themselves.

    Jim–I used to own that book, and read it several times. In fact, it partially inspired me to undertake this trip. Sadly, the woman who wrote it was killed while cycling in California shortly after the book was published.

    I will try water, but if pepper spray doesn’t stop them I don’t know what will.

  16. Jim November 4, 2008 / 8:58 pm

    You certainly have a point there…if pepper won’t work what will? Minor correction: Barbara Savage was killed before the book was published…her husband completed it.

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